It is Monday morning, and Maggie and I have the house to ourselves. I am compelled to sit and share the memories and the photos I am about to share, but there is a large part of me that wishes I could smother the feelings that compel me to sit and write and stir emotions.
When I was in college, I got a call from home about a dog. My sister, a high school student at the time, had convinced my parents to get a dog. She had fallen in love with the little dog in the film As Good As It Gets. That dog, named Verdell in the film, is portrayed by a Brussels Griffon, and Jessica, my sister, had to have a Brussels Griffon. The shocking part about the whole ordeal was that my parents, parents I believed to be people who would swiftly say, "No," located a Brussels Griffon, drove to Texas to purchase him, brought him into their home, and there, inadvertently, began my love of a home filled with small dogs who circle your feet when you're up and moving about and nestle in your lap the moment you're still.
They didn't name their Brussels Griffon Verdell; they named him Ethan, and my family was devoted to him until he died in May of 2015. You can read my tribute to Ethan here if you're so inclined.
After college, I attended graduate school, and I lived with my parents during this time. This meant I shared their home with Ethan, and within months of moving out and beginning my life as an independent adult, I realized I desperately wanted a small dog of my own to scamper around my home. My home at the time was an apartment, and it was into that apartment that I brought Sophie, a Maltipoo, in the fall of 2007. She was tiny and feisty and just perfect. Trey, who was dating me at the time and didn't dare express any disdain for my small dog, bought Sophie a variety of things including several outfits.
Sophie made many moves with me and took many of the most important steps I've taken right alongside me. Together we lived in two different apartments and briefly moved in with my parents (and Ethan) in the months before Trey and I got married. I then moved Sophie into the first home Trey and I shared. In January of 2012, Sophie accompanied the growing Zeigler family to our current home, her last home, where she died in the early morning hours last Thursday, April 22, 2021, a few months shy of her fourteenth birthday.
I have been preparing myself for her death for about a year. I wrote this last summer detailing finding Sophie on the floor one morning unable to get up. The vet, having determined she was having some issues with a few discs in her back, gave her some steroids (shots, pills), and she was up and walking again very soon. He said then that so long as she was still showing interest in food, I should keep encouraging her to get up and move around and keep her routine the same. We did that for about another year; it was a year I didn't expect to have with Sophie. Up until last Wednesday morning, she was, well, Sophie. She was excited about food anytime it was offered, and she often still greeted us at the door (alongside her youthful companion, Maggie) when we arrived home.
Last Wednesday she didn't eat. She didn't want a thing. She wouldn't even lick it when I held it under her nose. I am not a vet, but I spent nearly fourteen years with Sophie. I've seen her when she was sick, and she was not merely sick last week. She was dying. It was very apparent, and I prayed she would spend most of Wednesday in my lap and just go peacefully. I was prepared to take her to the vet Thursday morning once Trey took the kids to school, but that was not necessary. I met Trey at my parents' house on Thursday, and we buried her next to Ethan in their yard. I wanted to bury her near Ethan, but I also didn't want to bury her at our current home since I remain determined to move.
Goodness, what can you say about dogs? I am thankful for my Maggie, a wonderful dog I adopted from a rescue two years ago. She is curled up in my lap as I type. I didn't realize how old Sophie was and how much she had slowed until I brought Maggie home. It was like that moment when, knowing you've gained some weight, you try on an old pair of jeans and it's like, Oh. Oh wow. Maggie's exact age is unknown, but the vet's best guess is she's around three or four. She has been loving and patient with Sophie these last two years. To sit and sip my morning coffee with both of them curled up against me this last year as the world outside our home seemingly went crazy has been wonderful. I've been at home a lot this last year, and I am thankful for the time I had with Sophie.
I have a lot of pictures and a lot of memories featuring Sophie. She sat on my lap as I planned my wedding. She came with me when Trey and I took our engagement pictures, and she is featured in a few.
Sophie curled up beside me through two pregnancies. She got up in the middle of the night with me to nurse my babies. She didn't protest when a young Henry took up residence in the bed with us. She watched me learn to deal with Reagan's diabetes. She sat in my lap as I typed my grandparents' obituaries. She hobbled around the house this last year, still playful at times, still rolling around the bed with Maggie as if she was not an elderly dog in her final years. She loved to eat, always, never leaving a morsel, and maybe she knew that's how I would know.
Sophie accompanied me on two road trips. In 2008, my sister lived in Denver, and my parents and I drove out there with both Ethan and Sophie in tow for a visit. I don't know exactly what we were thinking.
When you bring a pet into your home, you absolutely know it is highly likely you will say goodbye to them one day. Odds are they will go first. It's hard to believe the truth of that when they're tiny bursts of pure energy, but God, in His wisdom, gave us dogs, these wonderful creatures with life spans that dwarf a human life span, to love, and I believe He gave us dogs for a handful of important reasons. There are so many lessons to be learned if we're willing to learn, from witnessing the entirety of their life span in just over a decade to experiencing their utter and complete devotion to those who love them.
I don't regret a thing. I would do it all over again. There is an ache now, yes, but it does not negate nearly fourteen years of love and joy. Last Friday night, the book club met. I was so glad for our meeting, as I always am. Our April book is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor is a woman who suffered serious trauma as an adolescent. The novel is the story of her coming to realize how deeply she has buried this trauma and gradually beginning to deal with it and get her life back on track after years of emotional and physical isolation. It is a dark book that is also laced with moments of hilarity; Eleanor's inner monologue is extremely well-written and, at times, utterly hilarious.
Anyway, near the end of the novel Eleanor's friend, Raymond, gives her a cat. Eleanor quickly realizes the life-affirming power of caring for something else. She says this of her cat:
She isn't able to take care of herself. She needs me.
It isn't annoying, her need — it isn't a burden. It's a privilege. I'm responsible. I chose to put myself in a situation where I'm responsible. Wanting to look after her, a small, dependent, vulnerable creature, is innate, and I don't even have to think about it. It's like breathing.
I didn't quite finish the book before we met Friday evening, so I read the above in bed Friday night with Maggie curled around me. The passage obviously sang loudly to me. I read it over and over again. Yesterday in his sermon my preacher mentioned the common knowledge that a woman's greatest need is to feel needed. Sophie met that need for me at a time when I was otherwise coming home to an empty apartment, long before I added a husband, two kids, and my sweet Maggie to the mix. She was a joy of a dog, happy when she was my only dependent and happy when she was sharing me with two kids who need me and a second, equally easy-going dog. I would have continued to care for her. I was prepared to take her to the vet early Thursday morning had she continued to refuse food, to see what he suggested, but I just knew it would end at home or shortly after I got her to the vet. I just knew, and she knew, and she went easily, with no fuss, happy, I think, to be curled on a familiar blanket in the home where she grew old.
I cried a lot Thursday, obviously. I cried because she was gone, and I realized, after Trey and I buried her, that I was crying because I was relieved it was over. I was tense all day Wednesday. I knew it was going to end somehow very soon, and the uncertainty of how it would unfold was nearly crippling. Sadness and relief washed over me in equal parts when I realized she was gone early Thursday morning. A thousand scenarios I'd mapped out in my mind all day Wednesday suddenly were no longer possibilities, and there was great peace in that, I realized, as a world of tension left my body.
I didn't want to write this, but I am glad I did. Obviously life continues to move, and there are pressing matters at hand. I haven't mentioned any of this on the blog, but in the last month we sold our house, found another house we wanted, and then both of those sales fell through. My car was also recently totaled, and the trip to Scotland my mother and sister and I have been attempting to take was (again) postponed. It has been a month. No one was injured in the wreck, thankfully, and now it's a matter of insisting the insurance company of the lady who hit me gets on the stick because I've been driving a rental car for going on three weeks now. I guess I've come full circle now because there is nothing that makes me want to crawl in bed with a book and my dog at the end of the day like dickering with an insurance company.
I'm sorry if I made anyone cry. Trey and I buried Sophie with little fanfare last Thursday, but she deserves some fanfare, a blog dedicated to the many wonderful years she spent by my side.
I'm glad we found each other, Sophie.